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Let's Procrastinate With Books! Post Ten

Last of the book meme questions, for littlerhymes. Thanks, everyone! Answering questions has been fun.

23. The book you expected to hate, didn’t, and then got angry about not hating

Really the whole 99 Novels experience has been like this – individual novels have been like this, starting with The Naked and the Dead, but also the whole project of reading a bunch of twentieth-century litfic by men, which due to some accidents of my education, I'd mostly only encountered at a distance through layers of unflattering commentary.

I'd spent two decades of my life making fun of Norman Mailer, as encountered in his own essays, in his appearance on When We Were Kings, and through descriptions by assorted feminist critics, before I read The Naked and the Dead. I don't know if I want to stop making fun of Norman Mailer – I mean, he did hang his National Book Award in the guest room of his house – but The Naked and the Dead surprised me. I think it was all the more surprising because it wasn't surprising – that is, it was everything I expected a Norman Mailer novel to be, only good instead of bad. I think I was even a little more impressed than Burgess, or at least more sympathetic to the way Mailer gives essentially the same set of sexual anxieties (his own?) to all his POV characters. Sometimes you've just got shit to work out, man.

The Catcher in the Rye was even more impressive because I had vague but strong memories of disliking it as a teenager, reinforced by the many, many intelligent people I'd met over the years who hated The Catcher in the Rye. I opened it up fully expecting to have nothing but scorn for Holden Caulfield and his stupid rich-kid problems, and immediately fell in love before the bottom of Page One. Whoops.

I'd like to state for the record that the lesson of this experience is not “diversity suxx, litbros 5ever.” I don't think there is much of a lesson.

Have I ever been really angry about not hating a book, though? It's possible, but I can't think of a good example right now.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 18th, 2016 10:06 pm (UTC)
he did hang his National Book Award in the guest room of his house

But what if his guests didn't know he'd won a National Book Award? Clearly he was saving them from the extremely awkward moment where their ignorance might come up in conversation! Somehow!

I should reread The Catcher in the Rye someday. I think now that I'm not a teenager myself, I might find Holden Caulfield less aggravating - maybe because I won't feel like I'm supposed to identify with him? Less aggravating and more sad.
Oct. 20th, 2016 12:43 am (UTC)
SO TRUE, Mailer was just being a gracious host by eliminating any awkward uncertainty about whether or not he was a Winner of the National Book Award. We should all strive to be as tactful!

I should reread The Catcher in the Rye someday. I think now that I'm not a teenager myself, I might find Holden Caulfield less aggravating - maybe because I won't feel like I'm supposed to identify with him? Less aggravating and more sad.

This was my experience. I couldn't stand being asked to identify with him as a (n actually fairly Holdenesquely half-articulate, whiny and judgmental) teenager, but now I am awash in maternal affection and protectiveness and tolerant understanding, all of which poor Holden would dismiss out of hand as crumby phony bullshit from the saddest kind of adult. Poor guy. <3

Edited at 2016-10-20 12:51 am (UTC)
Oct. 18th, 2016 10:34 pm (UTC)
At least Mailer got ONE good book off, lol!!
Oct. 20th, 2016 12:47 am (UTC)
There may even be more than one! Ancient Evenings is last on the 99 Novels list and while it's been made fun of up and down the block, I suspect I might have some sympathy for its concerns. And then there's all that stuff in the middle that isn't Advertisements for Myself.
Oct. 19th, 2016 10:33 am (UTC)
LOL! I read The Catcher In the Rye in my teens- and hated it. :)
Oct. 20th, 2016 12:49 am (UTC)
This is such a common experience! I can't guarantee anything, but I do recommend trying it again now that you're well out of your teens. You should be able to tell pretty quickly whether you're going to hate it or not.
Oct. 22nd, 2016 06:26 am (UTC)
well, I did revise my view on Lord of the Flies upon re-read. On the other hand I still didn't like it much, even if I found it inetresting the second time around. :)
Oct. 19th, 2016 01:38 pm (UTC)
It's a hard question. I wasn't sure I could think of something I was angry about not hating, so I was really curious to see what your answer would be!

I've never read Mailer because it sounds exactly like something I'd hate... now you've cast doubt into my heart! Damn, maybe I should read it. 0_0

(I unironically like Catcher in the Rye. IDK!!!)
Oct. 20th, 2016 01:15 am (UTC)
I can't recommend The Naked and the Dead without reservations - the misogyny can be obsessive and the prose very Mailerish, if you know anything about how Mailer likes to write sentences, and it takes some time to get going, and. . . It's not a perfect novel, but I found myself unexpectedly sympathetic to its imperfections.

Mailer himself was (or consistently presented himself as) a pompous ass, very easy to make fun of. But it's also easy to see why The Naked and the Dead was such a big deal. Mailer was very young and the novel is ambitious: ambitiously compassionate toward these ugly, hapless Army fuckups and ambitiously confused about just what the hell is going on, both on the front and IN THE HEARTS OF MEN (sorry, I still haven't learned how to talk about books without being super cheesy).

I wish I'd re-read Catcher in the Rye ten years earlier so I could have unironically liked it all this time! But maybe ten years earlier would have been too soon, who knows? Anyway, I love it now and that's the important thing. <3
Oct. 22nd, 2016 05:21 am (UTC)
I read it three times in my teens - once on recommendation from a friend and twice because we had to study it for English. I liked it. And don't forget, many years ago, when it first came out, it was THE book for teens, the one they read under the covers with a torch. Once it started being set as an English text, kids who might have liked it if they had discovered it themselves hated it. Check out some of the comments on Goodreads and you'll find most of them say, "I had to read this fir English, hate it!" Maybe time to ban it again. ;-)
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


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